The Ten Books on Architecture, 7.13

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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13I shall now begin to speak of purple, which exceeds all the colours that have so far been mentioned both in costliness and in the superiority of its delightful effect. It is obtained from a marine shellfish, from which is made the purple dye, which is as wonderful to the careful observer as anything else in nature; for it has not the same shade in all the places where it is found, but is naturally qualified by the course of the sun.

2That which is found in Pontus and Gaul is black, because those countries are nearest to the north. As one passes on from north to west, it is found of a bluish shade. Due east and west, what is found is of a violet shade. That which is obtained in southern countries is naturally red in quality, and therefore this is found in the island of Rhodes and in other such countries that are nearest to the course of the sun.

3After the shellfish have been gathered, they are broken up with iron tools, the blows of which drive out the purple fluid like a flood of tears, and then it is prepared by braying it in mortars. It is called “ostrum” because it is taken from the shells of marine shellfish. On account of its saltness, it soon dries up unless it has honey poured over it.

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